Put some thunder and lightening into your brainstorming sessions


Eliminate paper and sticky notes, accomplish more in less meetings and, best of all, enter all of your data only once! Mind Mapping is the most effective and efficient tool you will find to access creativity, save time, set timelines, dependencies, and resources, and track all of that throughout the project life cycle in one neat and attractive pallet. The purpose of this paper is to show you how you can think organically by using a method known as Mind Mapping for your brainSTORMing sessions, enabling you to capture all ideas—no matter how crazy or out of order—without derailing your meeting. You will be introduced to the theory behind organic thinking and a variety of applications including brainstorming and requirements gathering. Projects will be more complete, risk proof, and globally accessible when you add this incredible tool to your toolbox.

In this paper, we will lay the foundation by walking through the theory behind organic thinking and why it works better, discuss some relevant applications, learn to Mind Map, and then explore in more detail how Mind Mapping can be used specifically for the brainstorming/requirements gathering exercise. We will see how using Mind Mapping software will enable you to enter data only once and have it follow your project—from inception to completion without ever having to re-enter anything.


We all want to manage our projects in the most efficient and effective way possible. We need to extract all of the creative ideas from our team, assemble all of that information into one system, foresee all possible risks, assign timelines, dependencies, priorities, and resources and manage all of this throughout the life cycle of the project. Wow! A daunting task! And how many times do we enter and re-enter data? Brainstorming is typically done with white boards or sticky notes; then, someone takes a snap shot or gathers the notes and enters them into a document. A Gantt chart must be created; some executive who doesn't read Gantt wants to see a timeline and we have to enter the information into another program for that. In order to resort and analyze numbers we may need the information in Microsoft Excel, and the report to the board may need to be created in Microsoft Word.

What if you could start off with one brainstorming tool that would bring out the creative genius of your team, allow you to see the big picture all on one attractive pallet, and enter the information only once into a program that gives you the ability to deliver that information in all of the formats and programs listed above with only one click of your mouse? Talk about saving time and being efficient! This is the ultimate tool to optimizing creativity, saving time, managing priorities, and presenting your project in any format you may need to.


Some forms of Mind Mapping have been identified in the notes of geniuses for centuries. Famous thinkers, such as DaVinci (Exhibit 1), Darwin, (Exhibit 2), Edison, and Einstein used methods of visual representation, key words instead of sentences, and associations or diagrams.

In this century, a British psychologist, author, and educator by the name of Tony Buzan coined the phrase “Mind Mapping” to this visual method of note taking and popularized it. Buzan became very frustrated with linear study and organization methods when he was in college. In his search for a better method, Buzan took his notes and began to underline key words, box ideas, add color to important parts, and draw lines between associated words. As he did this, he noticed that only 10% of the linear notes were actually the important key ideas.

As Buzan researched note-taking and learning more, he studied the notes of geniuses and discovered that there were commonalities among the notes of many geniuses over time. He discovered that the great thinkers in history did not use sentences and linear styles in their notes, but rather doodled, drew pictures, jotted down words, and diagrammed associations.

“The Mind Map Book” (Buzan, pp 297, 304)

Exhibit 1 and Exhibit 2 from “The Mind Map Book” (Buzan, pp 297, 304)

Evolution of Mind Mapping

Tony Buzan created a structure for Mind Mapping, created some simple rules, and gave it a name (Exhibit 3).

Rules of Mind Mapping (Buzan, 2010, 27sec)

Exhibit 3 Rules of Mind Mapping (Buzan, 2010, 27sec)

The Rules of Mind Mapping

  • Always use a central image and images throughout
  • Put one main topic on each “branch”
  • Put sub-topics, each on its own “sub-branch”
  • Use three or more colors
  • Use on key word per line
  • Print all words clearly
  • Leave space for unexpected topics or new thoughts
  • Let your mind wander!

The Disadvantages of Linear Note-taking

Learning and Retention

The brain becomes quite easily bored by linear notes and that is why we don't learn as well as we could or remember as much. Studies show that students who use color and images learn more and remember longer. Have you ever read a page in a book and stopped to wonder what you just read? This is because your brain goes into a semi-hypnotic state because it is bored.


When we attempt to brainstorm with linear notes we are inhibited and restricted. Chunks of our ability to think, focus, and concentrate are used up on our attention to grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and other unnecessary embellishments. We miss information that others are contributing, because our focus is on our note taking instead of on the incoming information. Again, our brains are bored, so the creativity is repressed. We are asked to focus on one topic at a time; therefore, all other brilliant ideas are pushed aside to hopefully be remembered later, but often they are not.


Time is spent worrying about grammar, spelling, and all the other add-ons that are not needed to gather our requirements, compile our project, welcome contributions, and organize. We spend copious amounts of time writing notes, typing, emailing, and meeting when we don't need to. Time is wasted finding and making associations after the fact, assigning responsibilities, adjusting timelines and other natural links that could have been more easily made during the brainstorming process. Then, when we have to read and reread, turn pages, and mark up notes to remember associations, more time is wasted. Our presentation is also a time gobbler, because we have to keep the listeners attention through monotonous notes, superfluous speaking and page turning, and then draw their attention to associations again and again as we move through the presentation. This is much more easily accomplished with a visual representation, eye contact as we speak instead of read, and one page for listeners to look at while we show them our plan.

The Benefits of Mind Mapping

Learning and Retention

Mind Mapping increases learning and retention up to 95% over conventional note-taking. The structure of Mind Mapping is fashioned after the way the human brain actually thinks, which is radiantly. The color, structure, and pictures in a Mind Map excite the brain and keep it interested so that it is more receptive to the information. Because emotions are dealt with in the same part of the brain as memories, we tend to remember things that have emotion attached. So, when we are having fun learning and we are happy, we remember the information much longer.


The right brain is ignited through the process of Mind Mapping, and so our creativity and imagination are activated and our brain is more alert and receptive. This works both alone and with a team. When we are trying to access the creative ideas of our team, the Mind Mapping process will ensure that all brains are awake and active. The activity will also encourage those who do not normally participate to jump in and have fun. The fact that we are not restricted to one topic at a time means that people do not have to put a thought on “the back burner” or in the “parking lot” but rather can contribute and jump around from one topic to another at will. This also means that we can cover more material in a shorter amount of time. Because we are able to keep all topics and subtopics open on one page and in our brains at all times, we don't need to schedule more meetings to revisit topics or items that we missed.


We save time, up to 95%, in many different ways with Mind Mapping. We save time by writing only the relevant, key words instead of taking painstaking notes and worrying about grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and so forth. When reading our notes later we save time again by reading only the relevant words. More time is saved by having fewer meetings because we accomplish substantially more in less time. We no longer need to type emails, letters, or memos to communicate the progress of a project, because it is all shared via the Mind Mapping process. We are also saving time in the presentation of the project, because the information is synthesized onto one page for easy and complete comprehension.


Because we are able to draw links between categories and ideas as we brainstorm, organize, and progress with the project, associations are clear along the way. Responsibilities and timelines are also plain and evident to all. Because this is presented in a visual way, it is easier for all to grasp and remember.


Just a few of the many applications for Mind Mapping are:

  • Project Management
  • Brainstorming
  • Planning
  • Presentations
  • Interviewing
  • Analysis and Problem Solving
  • Decision Making
  • Meetings

Some of these applications are more well served by hand-drawn Mind Maps than others. When it comes to the specific purpose of project management, some drawbacks can be identified. Reorganization can be identified as an issue. Although brainstorming with your team on a huge blank paper on the wall or on a white board is fun and exciting and gets the creative juices flowing, someone will still need to be responsible for writing the information in order to share it with everyone and present it later. Some items may be put in a less than ideal spot and need to be moved later. If a responsibility or time line is changed, it will need to be adjusted manually and communicated to others. Most importantly, as we all know, projects can take on epic proportions and a hand-drawn Mind Map may not be the best way to manage and organize the project after the initial brainstorming is done.

Mind Mapping Software

The creation of Mind Mapping software took the entire process to a whole new level. With the addition of software we are able to record everything electronically and easily edit, update, reorganize, and share the Mind Map with our team, manager, client, or anyone else we would like to communicate progress to. Branches can be added, moved, and edited with the click of a mouse. Ideas can be captured visually, including electronic drawings or icons, and the ability to minimize branches gives us room to synthesize a huge amount of information into one Mind Map. As if the addition of software wasn't enough, there is even some software that is designed specifically for project managers. As you can imagine, this type of software considers many of your specific needs and requirements and has indeed revolutionized project management. Shown here is a Mind Map example of a Process Map (Exhibit 4);

Sample Process Map (Matchware, n.d.)

Exhibit 4 – Sample Process Map (Matchware, n.d.)


By utilizing Mind Mapping software in your requirements gathering process, you not only save time but also enhance the creativity of the group. First of all, it has been scientifically proven in study after study that people have more creative ideas, learn more, and retain information longer when they are having fun. Mind Mapping is clearly more fun than taking linear notes. Although the sticky note process or white board method also allows for more group creativity and fun, the information that you gather still has to be collected and input into some software or recreated in some way. When we do the requirements gathering within Mind Mapping software, it is the one and only time it needs to be entered. The information can now be enhanced, manipulated, edited, reformatted, exported, and presented all from that initial brainstorming exercise.

Now, think of the more reserved team members who tend to not contribute as much in the brain storming process. Let's examine some of the reasons for that and explore how the Mind Mapping exercise can help to get contributions from everyone. Sometimes there are people who tend to make quick contributions right away and sometimes even take over; they may move onto the next topic when the less assertive person has not yet finished formulating his or her thought or had a chance to share it. The thought may then be lost since we have moved on. With Mind Mapping, all of the topics stay present in our minds and in the process. Picture the visual brainstorming exercise. We have moved on to the next branch, but the one topic that we have left is still visually available and present in our thought process. The less assertive person is able to easily return to that topic even though some of us may have moved on.

I like to refer to it as keeping all topics open in our “RAM.” We don't file anything away in the hard drive of our brains—everything stays in our visual field and remains open in our brains so that ideas can continue to occur and associations can be continually made. This is crucial, because that is how thoughts happen in our brains. New thoughts are continually being grown out of associations that happen inside of our brains.

Pictures are also being added at the click of a mouse. Visual images illicit more memories and more original thoughts. Remember, a picture is worth 1,000 words!

These are a few of the many reasons that Mind Mapping, and Mind Mapping software, will make your brainstorming sessions more efficient, effective, and fun!

Exhibit 5 is a sample of a Mind Map created in MindView 4, Mind Mapping software created specifically for project managers. This is an example of brainstorming done for planning a vacation.

Strategic Planning

When using Mind Mapping software we are able to move, change, or enhance branches at any time during the process from brainstorming to presentation and at any point in between. If we decide that a certain branch or sub-branch would be more appropriately placed elsewhere, we simply drag and drop it. It is much easier to see and plan for potential risks when everything is all on one page.

Now that we have all of the information gathered into one Mind Map, it is very simple to determine what resources are needed and to assign timelines and dependencies. We can do this right in the Mind Map or, at the click of a mouse, convert the Mind Map to Gantt format (Exhibit 6) and assign timelines, dependencies, and resources in the Gantt. Changes are easy to make and are reflected instantly in all platforms, including Mind Map, Gantt, Timeline, MS Outlook, and so forth.

You never need to recreate or transfer information once you have entered it in the Mind Map. Within your Mind Mapping software you can manage dependencies, priorities, critical paths, constraints, completion values, duration, lead/lag times, resources, and milestones. Software is completely compatible with all Microsoft Office Products so you can export to Word, import from Microsoft Project, create a PowerPoint presentation quickly and easily, and even view as a WBS or Timeline, all with a simple click of your mouse.

Sample Map for a PowerPoint® (Matchware, n.d.)

Exhibit 5 - Sample Map for a PowerPoint® (Matchware, n.d.)

Mindmap to Gantt Chart (Matchware, n.d.)

Exhibit 6 – Mindmap to Gantt Chart (Matchware, n.d.)

Your project can be exported easily to Microsoft Office Suite programs, including MS Project, Outlook, Excel, and even Word. You can also import from MS Office programs. This is useful for bringing existing task lists and timelines from Outlook. Once you have linked the two, updates to either one are reflected in both. What an incredible tool! Now, you can export the entire project to PowerPoint for presentation purposes and to Word to create a cohesive booklet complete with an automatically generated table of contents.

With all of these functions available within one program and the tools to motivate your team, access individual and group creativity, awaken your brains, remember more and have your project presentation ready at a moment's notice, your job has suddenly become more effective, efficient, time saving, and fun!

Mind Mapping Summarized

The feedback from project managers with whom I have shared the revolutionary tool of Mind Mapping is unanimous: it makes their jobs easier, more effective, and fun!

Mind Mapping saves time, eliminates the need for duplication of efforts, accesses the creative genius of individuals and teams, makes assigning priorities and timelines fluid and easy, and makes your presentations stand apart from the rest.

Buzan, T. (1996, March). The Mind Map Book. New York, NY, USA: PLUME

Buzan, T (2010, July 15) Rules for Mind Mapping. On You Tube Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=76Roy4E4ZbE&vq=medium#t=27

Matchware (n.d.) Sample maps from http://www.matchware.com/en/default.htm

© 2010, Cathy Byrnes
Originally published as a part of 2011 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Dallas/Ft.Worth, TX



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